Susan Spivock Smith, an Emerald Isle resident, remembers her father as an active and devoted father and grandfather.
“He was just a great, fun guy,” Susan says. “He liked dancing and music and coaching baseball. He was very social and never met anybody he didn’t know and like.”
But around four years ago, Susan’s dad stopped initiating conversations, and became confused when talking to other people.
“He used to be able to talk and talk and talk about anything,” Susan says. “But he was no longer participating. He was just kind of sitting there.”
When the former marine began falling for scams over the phone and stopped being able to handle his finances properly, Susan decided to take action. So she took him to the doctor and he was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia, a decline in thinking skills caused by conditions that block or reduce blood flow to various regions of the brain, depriving them from oxygen and nutrients.
“He looked great on the outside,” Susan says. “He was cognizant and could tell you the day of the week, but behind all of that, that’s where it all falls apart.”
After learning of her father’s diagnosis, Susan, a nurse practitioner, immediately began volunteering for the Alzheimer’s Association, working as a volunteer at the New Bern and Wilmington Walks to End Alzheimer’s, and then serving as the Committee Chair of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Jacksonville.
While serving as the Walk Committee Chair in 2015, Susan was introduced to the Association’s second signature event, The Longest Day: a do-it-yourself fundraiser that takes place on or around the summer solstice to fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s.
“I went to my friends and we immediately began brainstorming ideas for a fundraiser,” Susan says. “We decided that nothing is better than a walk on the beach in June.”
Susan then created the Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Crawl, a walk from the point of Emerald Isle to Indian Beach and back again, totaling 26 miles.
“We actually walked from sunrise to sunset,” Susan says. “Out first year it was really small, like less than 10 people, but it was so special to see everybody come out and support.”
Now, in order to encourage more participants who may not be able to walk the entire 26-mile stretch, the Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Crawl is a relay-style walk, where each person passes a baton every two miles. As of The Longest Day 2019, the Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Crawl has raised $43,780 total since their inaugural year.
While they don’t charge an entry fee to participate, Susan and her team raise money by holding a raffle, to win prizes a long weekend at a beach house, sponsored by a local real estate company, as well as books signed by local authors, and other donated items and experiences. Anyone who donates $50 to their event is entered to the raffle.
“The sun sets a little after 8:00 that day, so we host a Sunset Ceremony right at sunset,” Susan says. “We pick our raffle winners, and always take a sunset picture to show everyone who participated in the fight to end Alzheimer’s. It’s a great way to end the day.”
Along with the raffle, Susan also raises money by partnering with their local Parrot Head Club chapter, a group “whose purpose is to assist in community and environmental concerns and provide a variety of social activities for people who are interested in the music of Jimmy Buffet and the tropical lifestyle he personifies,” according to their website.
The Parrot Head Club will donate $10 for any member who registers for the Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Crawl, and has also named the event their charity of choice for their annual 50/50 raffle.
Susan and her team also use Facebook fundraisers, asking their friends who may not make it to the Crawl to virtually send donations, and the team sells T-shirts for $20 to raise funds for The Longest Day. This year, their goal is $5,000.
While raising money to advance the critical care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association is an important part of Susan’s event, she says her favorite part is seeing everyone come together for a common cause, and impact the community by raising awareness on the beach that day.
“People will see us holding our #ENDALZ flags or wearing our t-shirts and ask what we’re walking for,” Susan says. “Sometimes they’ll hand us money or share their own story about how they’re affected by Alzheimer’s. That’s the most meaningful part for me.”
She continues: “I really feel like this is a disease that is just not getting the attention it deserves. I want people to understand that this isn’t just normal aging. I’ve been passionate about Alzheimer’s and dementia my entire career and I really want to do my part to end it.”
Earlier this year, Susan’s father passed away with dementia, but her fight to end the disease will carry on. Barring continued protective orders regarding COVID-19, this year, the Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Crawl will be held on June 20, 2020. To participate in Susan’s fundraiser or start your own, visit alz.org/tld.
Alzheimer’s Association The Longest Day
The Longest Day is the day with the most light — the summer solstice. Thousands of participants from across the world come together to fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through an activity of their choice. Together, they use their creativity and passion to raise funds and awareness for the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association.
The Longest Day, which has always been a virtual event is still taking place as planned, culminating on the summer solstice, June 20, 2020. The comfort and safety are of the utmost importance to the Alzheimer’s Association, so we understand if your plans have now changed. As coronavirus (COVID-19) changes many aspects of our daily life, you can still make an impact in the fight against Alzheimer’s by fundraising for The Longest Day. Depending on your situation, The Longest Day could provide a healthy outlet for you and your family during an extended stay at home. For those wishing to explore how you can continue to support The Longest day virtually, reach out to Hannah Litaker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 980.498.7724.